That phrase shouldn’t mean anything. Maybe in an ideal world, it wouldn’t. But in the world where there are six and seven figures deal for YA fantasy because some suits in New York have a weird perception of the market (which never really fit in any proper math models) and think that it will sell. Anything that doesn’t fit into that vision is deemed a hard sell. Before finding their homes, Marlon James’ “Black Leopard Red Wolf”, Indra Das’ “The devourers” and Arkady Martine’s “A Memory called Empire” were deemed hard sells, uncategorizable, beyond genres, and thus beyond the profit margins of big companies.
That is how corporate greed dictates art direction.
While we live under the merciless capitalist regime that is fine, everyone at a big publisher is interested in earning as much money and thus prioritizing products appealing to the widest possible audience. That’s okay if the profits would be divided and shared between everyone who put in insurmountable hours into book production – authors, slush readers, all kinds of editors, proofreaders, designers, typesetters, printers, marketing people, bookstore sellers. The working people. And yet the dividends stay at the top, with CEOs and the investment fund owners of the Big5 keeping most of the profit while bemoaning the unprofitable nature of book publishing. We keep doing it and tolerating it because on one hand – who doesn’t want a six-figure deal from top publishers, on the other – there is no better way, right?
Wrong. There is a better way.
A place where like-minded workers organize and create something beautiful. That’s what I found when I learned about Radix Media. Radix Media is New York City’s only worker-owned, union print shop and publisher.
In 2012, they relocated from Oregon to New York and merged with OccuCopy, another worker-owned shop that sprouted from the Occupy Wall Street movement and focused on digital printing, and in late 2017 united with Wasp Poster & Print, a high-end letterpress and design shop. A worker-owned, high-quality printing company and independent publisher, whose creative direction and vision do not depend on some Harvard-educated, hedge-fund douchy account manager’s financial model. This is the future. Or better to put it – “Futures”?
Today they are operating from Brooklyn and have ensured that if the revolution will not be televised, it will definitely be printed. And that’s what they’ve been doing so far with Aftermath and Futures collections.
Varying from 20 to 40 pages, the seven stories presented in the collection do what science fiction was born to do – address contemporary issues in an imagined future. The diversity of ideas, visions, and people behind them streams from every aspect of the collection – from the print design to different cover designs, and the myriad of ideas and issues addressed in the texts. From comfy tropical islands protected from any winds to robotized body horror in an even more horrific healthcare system, there is a lot to unpack and every bit of it will make you angry and you will fall in love with every bit of it.
Futures is comprised of seven stories published between April and October 2019 as listed below. They were sold individually as well as through a monthly subscription. The box set includes all seven chapbooks.
- Always Blue by John Dermot Woods (April 2019)
- Guava Summer by Vera Kurian (May 2019)
- Muri by Ashley Shelby (June 2019)
- Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother by Hal Y. Zhang (July 2019)
- What You Call by Germ Lynn (August 2019)
- A Point of Honor by Aeryn Rudel (September 2019)
- Milo (01001101 01101001 01101100 01101111) by Alexander Pyles (October 2019)
The one that resonated with me the most, because I was that Stacey Graham, I was the one to dig and doubt, to suspect, and continue despite the disrespectful laughs and condescending smiles of my peers. Add a failing professor, a love affair with the university archivist and you get more high-quality literature per square centimeter than was thought possible before.
The concern with climate catastrophe, that the system and the world that you believed infallible to crumble at your feet, is palpable and real in Always Blue. Does it provide us with the answers we need? No. Should it? Also, no. But it gives us a direction where to look, both internally and externally.
Readable in one sitting – the style, the pacing, the vivid imagery and relatable characters, John Dermot Woods’ piece is easily among the classic to be studied and admired, both by readers and academically.
It was hot just from reading “Guava Summer”. Now take the level of Vera Kurian’s critique of political discourse, media, activism, mass surveillance, and electoralism, and we reach a boiling point. Revolutionary is a big word, and in the context of “Guava Summer” it can sound sarcastic, but this is revolutionary. Wrap all of the above in Kurian’s fantastically lucid prose and spice up with extreme intelligence and insight and you get Guava Summer.
Charlie Booker really needs to put his hands on this one and film them.
Definitely my favorite cover of the seven. Ashley Shelby is courageous enough to take Melville’s Benito Cereno and add a couple of mutinous bears to it. The suffocating feeling of isolation, growing madness, and hopelessness is multiplied by the despair of the climate catastrophe at the heart of the story.
The feeling that you’re stuck on the ship in the midst of a mutiny doesn’t leave you until the last page, all due to Shelby’s intense style and precise prose. Not a word is misplaced, not an adjective over the top – everything is done matter-of-factly, with an unapologetically no-nonsense approach. On par with the best SF classics.
Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother
The most personal and heartbreaking of the seven, “Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother”. Hal Y. Zhang brings another surveillance state dystopia but makes it hit too close to home. Conspiracy theory-spewing elderly mother leaves home without a warning and leaves a daughter guessing what the hell has happened.
The search for her mother leads the daughter to uncover a horrible truth – she knows next to nothing about her mother. For the protagonist it would be easier to accept that her mother was a spy entangled in an international conspiracy than to face the music and the banality of sickness and the distancing in motherhood.
In the end, Ellery – the daughter, may not understand her mother, nor do we. Yet, Ellery tries to do it, tries to solve the unsolvable.
What you call
While we linger in the post-truth world, Germ Lynn offers a glimpse into a post-human world. In the near future, the government launched an initiative to create “support units” for the sick and the vulnerable. Well, surprise-surprise – they lied. Without warning, the program is discontinued, and the “support units” are dismantled, weaponized, and shipped to other worlds for reasons only the government knows.
Lynn takes this dystopia and runs to the hills with it. There is the battle of Lacanian Real vs real, and the unparalleled insight into a mind in a body, and how it determines identity while putting it in stark contrast with identity vs. externalities like corrupt governments and senseless violence. We mourn the death of love, the death of feeling with Germ Lynn.
A point of honor
I’ve been a douchy enough teenager to be constantly afraid through the entirety of “A Point of Honor”. Conceptually simple yet genius – the society is held together by 15th century understanding of honor and the limited number of ways to protect it (duels). The protagonist, quickly learns that being an online troll doesn’t really fit in with those ideals.
Would I want it to be real? Nope. “A Point of Honor” offers almost a Zizek-esque (?) critique of modern modes of communication, the culture of canceling each other out, and the simultaneous insensitivity and extreme responsibility for abuse of others through the repressive means of language. In the end, there is no mercy and there is no redemption, there is only justice.
Milo (01001101 01101001 01101100 01101111)
Alexander Pyles forces us to go beyond language to communicate the liminal line between flesh and robot in a world where you cannot trust the healthcare system even one bit. This is a story of a body failing and a system failing, and together they put the mind in a cage.
Through titular character Milo, we explore the razor-sharp critique of the endless pursuit of normalcy in a world of corporate greed. Together with Milo you dissociate from your physical body, and are left wondering “Who am I? Am I a person?” while you’re being robbed of your language and all you got left is the binary code. 01101000 01100101 01100001 01110010 01110100 01100010 01110010 01100101 01100001 01101011 01101001 01101110 01100111 [Heartbreaking]
Is it worth the time? Of course. Spending a couple of hours reading the Futures (and a couple more to marvel as the exquisite design and graphics of the series) is a delightful and enriching experience, that leaves you if not a different person, but at least touched by something fresh, new, and inherently intimate, yet big. More so, Futures shows that there is a better way to publishing and especially in the most revolutionary of genres – science fiction.
If after a day with the Futures not all the stories stick with you, there is this meta-narrative of control over one’s body and one’s fate, that is evident in the way that the collection was produced and in the themes of the stories – this narrative will definitely stay with the reader. This existential anxiety, even angst, at losing control over your life has never been more evident than now. Our institutions fail us, our leaders are class traitors, and we are alone with ourselves. And in this chaos and darkness, Radix Media brought us a ray of light, a better alternative to how we do things now.
What some might call a “hard sell”, for Radix turned out to be a massive hit that will send ripples through the history of genre. What some call a “utopia” may turn out to be the only viable way for our future.
P.S. “The future is now, old man.” I’m saying to everyone who thinks that science fiction started and ended with Asimov while shaking “Milo” in my fist.